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Petraeus and Meacham Honored at Westminster College

Renee Hickman

Pulitzer prize-winning historian Jon Meacham and Retired General David Petraeus spoke on Russia, the Trump administration and the relevance of history to current events at the National Churchill Museum in Fulton on Saturday.

The two were among eight people honored as Churchill Fellows by the museum during this year’s annual “Churchill Fellows Weekend”.

The event commemorates the “Iron Curtain Speech” given by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the college in 1946. The speech warned of the impending threat of the Soviet Union to Europe at the time.

71 years later, Russia was again the topic of much of the conversation at the event, as were other international and domestic political issues.

Petraeus said while there were areas of common ground to be had with Russia, especially with regard to the defeat of the Islamic State group, he urged caution when dealing with the Putin regime.

Petraeus said the U.S. needs to have its “eyes wide open” in its relationship with Russia, but that, “if there was a lovefest [with the Trump administration], it appears to have ended.”

Petraeus also said that with increasing levels of military action in places like Iraq, Syria and Yemen, continuing to fund diplomatic efforts is critical. He and more than 100 other generals signed a letter in February opposing the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the U.S. State Department.

Meacham spoke about the role of history in shaping our current conversations about President Trump.   

Having written “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House”, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography, he had a particular perspective on the comparisons being made between Trump and Jackson.

Meacham said although Jackson had participated in two of the “original sins of American life – African-American slavery and Native American removal,” Jackson was devoted to the preservation of the union and to “leading all of us,” as Meacham recently wrote.   

“My own sense right now is that President Trump is more interested in pleasing his, dare I say it, ever-diminishing base,” said Meacham. “Jackson always believed that he had to get 50 percent and more to be an effective president.”

“The Jackson analogy is a fairly new one for [Trump],” said Meacham. “I spent an hour and a half with him in May of 2016. Jackson never came up.”

Both speakers referenced the importance of history to the legacy of Winston Churchill and to informing our current leadership.

“I would urge all of us in our way, in whatever corner we find to brighten, to ask that those whom we put in charge of our affairs, to quote Churchill, to have a sense of history,” said Meacham.